In Part 2 of this three-part series, we are reflecting on what we have learned from this year’s Upfronts and NewFronts and why this year marks the tripping point in the decline of the traditional television Upfront.

Upfronts vs. NewFronts

Is anyone else out there feeling that the whole notion of the Upfront is a bit long in the tooth?  The process is a vestige of another time, like gross and net pricing.  Yet we still work with billing processes that show gross and net billing a lifetime after 15% agency commissions bit the dust, so Upfronts will not die anytime soon.  There is a sense though, that things have changed. 

A couple of indicators:

  • The presentations from Crackle and Hulu: Both of these digital platforms made their play for network TV dollars.  Both discussed their value propositions relative to TV and both talked about targeting with data.
  • Cinema advertising presentations from Screenvision and NCM: Both of these teams are also chasing TV dollars.  Both took potshots at digital video and “viewability,” demonstrating a digital viewable impression onscreen.  Both touted new initiatives enabling greater targeting capabilities through data.
  • NBCU: Bravo's Andy Cohen made “data” the secret word of the presentation, allegedly drinking a Fresca and Tequila drink concoction each time the word was mentioned.

Are we sensing a pattern here?  Everyone is talking about employing data to help clients find more highly targeted audiences.  While large audiences are important, if the focus is on data and targeting, aggregating the right target audience is more to the point.  The Upfronts would then be less about what new series will be a breakout success and garner huge audiences and more about what networks and publishers are producing the content that will attract the targeted audience advertisers seek.  In this sense it is less Upfront vs. Newfront and more a Content Front.

Re-Defining Content and Business Models

The Upfronts and NewFronts are becoming more similar in style, presentation and purpose.  All vendors are giving marketers an advance peek at their production slate to generate commitments.  A key difference between the two is that the broadcast networks (in particular) will still likely be cancelling shows four weeks into the season, regardless of the vast resources and investments made in bringing them to the screen.  Meanwhile, Hulu and Crackle can launch a show, nurture it (no matter how small the initial audience) and make it successful on some scale over a longer period of time.

When will the seemingly-insane network business model evolve so that shows with rabid fan bases and marginal ratings that put them perilously on the bubble of cancellation (think “Community” and “Arrested Development”) get the certainty of funding and destiny that streaming services can already provide?  I am not blaming the networks here -- the business model with ratings as currently measured is seriously flawed in a marketplace where consumer behavior does not jive with live TV.

Have We Tripped?

The way this year’s Upfronts and NewFronts turned out, the answer is a qualified “yes.”  Whether the name changes to something like Content Fronts or the term “NewFronts” goes away as digital unveils content in a unified industry Upfront, all video content is competing for attention.  Original content on streaming services, though limited compared to broadcast and cable, is challenging the quality previously available only on TV.  The sheer volume of digital video content that will be produced in 2015, mostly by digital platform publishers, will make video ubiquitous.  The change in the way content is being consumed is making new types of content and forms of storytelling possible. 

Last but not least, the Cable Advertising Bureau just recently changed their name to Video Advertising Bureau (just saying).  In 2015, we tripped.

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